ALAMEDA -- An accident launched Cheryl O'Brien Jones on the path that led to her career, when a car hit her family's cat when she was 10 years old.

In the days that followed, Jones faithfully visited the Park Centre Animal Hospital on Central Avenue, helping nurse and care for the black-and-white feline named Kitty.

"She always remembered that experience," said Karen O'Brien, her mother. "It inspired her to become a veterinarian."

Jones practiced veterinary medicine in Kansas for 20 years until her death on June 28 from duodenal cancer. She was 50.

A native of Alameda, Jones attended Haight Elementary School and was a stalwart on the swim team at Alameda High School, where she was valedictorian of her graduating class.

Known as Cheri to her friends and family, Jones earned a bachelor of science degree from UC Davis before attending its veterinary school.

She was among the first students ever selected for the veterinary school immediately after finishing their undergraduate work, her family said.

Jones met her husband, Scott, whom she married in 1992, at a dance club in San Francisco and moved with him to Kansas, where they adopted their children, Jack and Julia.

The children were the "lights of Cheri's life," said Pastor Nancy Pauls of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, where Jones's funeral was held on July 1.

"Cheri was an outspoken advocate for open adoption and she and Scott lived that out fully, resulting in a wealth of blessings and grace for their own nuclear family and the children's birth families as well," Pauls said.

Jones was diagnosed as a diabetic at age 9 and received a kidney and pancreas transplant less than a year after she was married.

Instead of considering the physical challenge as a setback, Jones used it as platform to campaign for donor awareness. "She was a real go-getter," her mother said.

In 2005, Jones competed as a swimmer in the World Transplant Games in Canada, where she won bronze and silver medals.

"In athletics, school and life, Cheri was self-driven, competitive and knew what she wanted," Pauls said. "She was no nonsense."

Along with swimming, Jones loved camping among the redwood forests in Northern California, especially when she was a child, her family said.

The depth of Jones's compassion for animals was underscored about five years ago, when an animal control officer brought a puppy into Leawood's State Line Animal Hospital, where Jones worked.

The officer had confiscated the golden retriever from a couple he suspected was planning to drown it because the puppy was missing a leg.

"Cheri took the pup from him and carried it in the pocket of her scrubs all morning," Vern Ott, another veterinarian at the hospital, told mourners at her funeral.

Jones and her family ended up adopting the dog, naming him Olympia.

Along with her husband and two children, Jones's survivors include her parents, Karen and Robert (Buck) O'Brien; two sisters, Joyce (John) Craig and Kelly (Harry) Langdon; and two nieces, Mary Jane and Gina Mae Langdon.

Contributions in Jones's memory can be made to Midwest Transplant Network at www.mwtn.org or Hushie Pet Memorial Fund, 2009 W. 104 St., Leawood, KS 66206.

Reach Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654 or follow him on Twitter.com/Peter_Hegarty.

FYI
A celebration of the life of Cheryl O'Brien Jones will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. Aug.11 in the Trident Room at the Albert H. DeWitt Officers Club, 641 West Redline Ave., Alameda Point.